Owners think outside the box for their French homes
Falling in love with an enormous house is easily done. Doing it up is harder, and once finished and/or the children have flown the coop, the challenge is deciding how to use it. Some sell up and downsize, others run a B&B – but Connexion readers have fresh solutions: hiring the house to event companies, setting up a residential language course or as a stop-off for horses being transported.
George and Rebecca Connor did not just buy a large house, they bought the entire hamlet of La Grande Garde, Pageas, (Haute-Vienne), complete with a spacious farmhouse, a massive complex of barns and outhouses, several cottages, communal bread oven, and 62 acres of rolling farmland.
“Works are ongoing but our ‘horse hotel’ is shaping up nicely,” says George. “We are located exactly where a tachograph says a lorry transporting horses has to stop and unload.”
It is an ideal location for an overnight stop on the journey to and from Spain and either the UK or Holland.
“We love horses,” says Rebecca, and the photos on their office wall say it all. In the UK they competed at county level, appearing at both the Royal International Horse Show and the Horse of the Year Show and they have an impressive collection of cups and prizes on their walls. They still have five horses, although they retired from competition when they left Lancashire in 2014 to move to France.
“As well as the competing, we ran a pet hotel for years – and a string of pet shops,” says Rebecca. “We could accommodate any animal, horses, dogs, cats, snakes, fish, any animal at all, but no kids!” jokes George.
The job of renovating the hamlet would have made any ‘normal’ couple apprehensive but George and Rebecca, who have been together 35 years, say they like working. George has done much of the building work himself, including building a garage.
“We plan to have upwards of 12 loose boxes for visiting horses, so all drivers will have to do is back the lorry up the stable door and we’ll be able to unload the horses straight into their boxes,” says Rebecca.
“You have to take enormous care of other people’s animals.”
They have renovated shower and toilet facilities for drivers, and will be able to supply breakfast. “If we look after the drivers as well as the horses, they’ll want to come here, and we have all our qualifications in animal transport, so we know what’s needed.”
So, when a lorry arrives, the boxes will already be prepared with food on the floors. “When the horses eat and drink off the floor, it helps them get rid of the mucus which can accumulate in the airways during transport,” says Rebecca.
Travelling is exhausting and stressful for horses and the couple say they will not turn them out into the paddock once they arrive as exploring new paddocks with unknown other horses is more stressful than just being left alone to relax and sleep in an individual loose box. “Also, we can better guarantee their safety in a box than out in a paddock.”
They are having one of the barns re-roofed, and once that is done, plan to renovate the interior themselves.
“We knew what we were getting into,” they say. “We knew it would be a lot of work, but that’s what we like!”
Learn the language in Riviera style
François and Leslie Mouchard have a stunning six-bedroom villa on cliffs near St-Tropez overlooking the Mediterranean. Inside it is airy, furnished in classic style, with doors on to a large terrace above the sea.
Inherited from François’ parents in 1970 they used it as a holiday home, but five years ago, when François retired from publishing, they opted to do something more proactive, and began running residential French courses.
“Leslie is American and knows all about learning French,” says François. “So most of our students are British and Americans with reasonable fluency, who just want to move it up to the next level.”
Students spend a week immersed in 24-hour French.
“We work indoors in the morning, looking at advanced comprehension and grammar, and after lunch on the terrace, visit St-Tropez or some of the other beautiful villages in the area. Then we have dinner on the terrace, all in French.”
Students can also climb down the steps to swim off the flat rocks below the villa, or stroll five minutes along to a beach.
Working most often with groups of four or five, they try to ensure people all have more or less the same level, so no-one feels left behind.
“Most people are intermediate or advanced but we are happy to welcome beginners too. We concentrate on whatever they want to learn, be it grammar, oral comprehension or anything else. We set up a timetable and organise the aims of the course on the first day and then try to stick to it.
“As we both love languages, and analysing them and learning expressions, it is a dream job, And we get to meet loads of interesting, fantastic people.
“So it was a way of keeping the house, and paying the enormous taxe foncière and taxe d’habitation, that is €5,000 alone. So this is an ideal way of running the house.”
Clients tend to be ‘of a certain age’ and come from as far as New Zealand and the US.
A course costs €1,400 pp for six nights, or €2,500 for a couple sharing a room, including tuition, meals and excursions.
Family home is now venue for activities and retreats
Paul and Tracy Bedford bought their stone farmhouse near Cordes-sur-Ciel (Tarn) 24 years ago and painstakingly renovated not only the house but several other interlinking properties on the same plot, so they now have a golden stone complex of medieval buildings.
There is a large terrace, a tower, a bridge to nowhere (quite literally as it spans a walkway, leading from the gardens on one side to a plain stone wall on the other), a swathe of gardens and woods, and nine spare bedrooms.
“It was a perfect family home when the kids were growing up here,” says Paul. (They have three sons and a daughter.)
“But now they have all left home and are starting families of their own, and we spend the winter in Morocco, it’s a shame to have it standing empty most of the year. We just want to see people enjoying the place.”
So they thought of letting it out as a residential venue for courses like yoga, painting or music.
The original house has a large sun terrace for breakfast and early evening drinks; there is a sunken courtyard offering shady seating space and a barbecue room set in a giant alcove off the courtyard.
It has a huge fireplace and can be closed off with large curtains making it a perfect spot for guests to relax in.
An old barn has been converted to provide more guest rooms and bathrooms, and downstairs is a large recreation room which can be used for meetings, exercise classes or, since it has its own bar, parties.
There is also a treatment room for massages, a full-sized swimming pool, a tennis court, and a wooden yoga deck overlooking the stunning medieval citadel of Cordes-sur-Ciel.
Turning it into a boutique hotel would have been an option but the family are not hoteliers and want to maintain the family vibe. Letting the entire domain out to companies who run activity holidays, or wellness retreats, or even just those who want to treat their staff to a weekend in France seemed a good solution.
To keep it intimate and relaxed, numbers are limited to 12 guests at a time and the house, with all facilities and meals, plus a transfer to and from Toulouse airport costs €10,000 for a week.
Their son Chris runs the business. “We want it to still feel like a family home,” he says, “so people can just come and relax. That’s why we decided not to do weddings, or large events. There’s space here, but it wouldn’t have been the same atmosphere.”